Tuesday, January 03, 2006

BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING - 57 varieties of Pure Comedy Gold

BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING is a cracking French movie directed by Jean Renoir in 1932. Running at just under an a hour and a half it can be taken as a hillarious little French farce. Boudu the tramp is saved from drowning by Monsieur Lestingois, a bourgeois bookseller. Lestingois - the spirit of kindness and middle-class condescension, welcomes Boudu into his home. But instead of being meek and thankful, Boudu brings chaos in his wake, pouncing on Lestingois' wife and mistress into the bargain! Cineastes can also watch this movie for glimmers of Renoir's greatness - all the characteristic traits are there, from long tracking and panning shots to split-focus long shots with plenty of action in deep focus. Those with a political bent can argue over whether it is Boudu or the Bourgeois who comes off worse in this comedy of manners. In the 1960s, the film gained a cult following: Boudu was perceived as a proto-hippie thanks to his "anarchic" disrespect for bourgeois convention. However, with his infantile behaviour and supreme egotism, Boudu can also be "read" as an allegory of how Big Government and Welfare States infantilise their citizens....In short, this is a film that repays viewing and remains relevant seventy years after its original release.

Played with inutterable charm by Michel Simon, Boudu is such an incorrigible rogue that this movie is truly one of the best-loved in France, and the critics of the time pressed Renoir to make a Boudu series - Boudu in Society, Soldier Boudu - in the manner of Charlie Chaplin's tramp movies. Sadly, finances did not allow this. Ah well, at least Londoners have a rare opportunity to see Boudu's first and only outing during January 2006 at the National Film Theatre.

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